How To: Write a Letter of Complaint About NHS Treatment

You expect proper treatment from the NHS. And for the most part, our health service provides that. But things can – and do – go wrong.

If you’ve been on the receiving end of an error or substandard treatment, you have the right to send a letter of complaint about your experience.

A letter of complaint isn’t the same as making a medical negligence claim but it can form part of your case if you do then choose to pursue legal action.

Can I send a letter of complaint?

In 2018/19, the NHS received 208,924 written complaints. Before you send one yourself, you’ll need to establish if you have the right to make an NHS complaint.

There are several factors that determine if you can complain, including that:

  • You haven’t already complained

You can’t complain again if you’ve already sent a letter of complaint or if you’ve made a verbal complaint that the NHS has resolved by the end of the next working day.

  • You must have permission to complain for someone else

You can complain about treatment you’ve received or you can complain on behalf of others in certain circumstances. This includes on behalf of children, someone who has passed away or someone who lacks the capacity to complain themselves. You can also complain on behalf of someone who has given you their permission to do so.

  • You must understand the complaint

There is no minimum age limit for sending a letter of complaint, which makes it possible for children to complain. But they have to fully understand what they’re complaining about and why they’re doing so. If they don’t, a responsible adult will have to complain on their behalf.

  • You face a deadline

You have 12 months to send a letter of complaint to the NHS about its services – from the date of the incident or the date you discovered what happened. It’s possible to make a complaint to the NHS after this deadline if you have a good reason for not doing so and if the NHS is still able to investigate what happened.

It’s also important to remember that you will also face a deadline if you choose to make a medical negligence claim. You’ll have three years from the date you experienced the negligence to begin a claim. It is hugely helpful to get in touch as soon as possible so our No Win No Fee solicitors can guide you through the process.

Write your letter of complaint

When complaining about the NHS, you should keep a record of the incident you’re addressing. You should keep the names of anyone else involved, as well as dates and times of when you saw or spoke to them.

These details will help the NHS investigate what happened.

Your letter should then begin by stating the issue you’re complaining about, as well as when and where it happened. You can state whether you’ve tried to address the problem before.

If you’re looking for certain points to be addressed, you can then list them and explain what you would like to achieve by complaining. This could be an explanation, a plan for the NHS to resolve the problem or an apology for your substandard treatment.

For example, if you’ve experienced a delayed diagnosis of an illness because your GP refused to carry out the necessary tests, explain that you would like an explanation for why this happened and what impact this delay could have on your health.

You can then request that your GP be investigated, that they explain their decision-making and an apology from your GP.

Although this will likely be a distressing issue for you, it’s important not to let your emotions get the better of you when writing your letter of complaint. Explain why you were upset, but remain clear and concise. Don’t make accusations or use aggressive language. Don’t make any claims that you can’t prove with evidence.

You can include copies of any documents relating to your case – such as correspondence or notes – but make sure you keep the originals yourself.

Who to complain to

Every NHS service has its own complaints procedure. This means there is no one central place you can send your letter to. You will need to find out exactly where to send your complaint letter.

If you’re complaining about a hospital or ambulance service, you can contact the CEO or the complaints manager of the hospital trust. But if you’re not sure who to send your letter to, you can request help from the NHS Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS).

But if you’re complaining about service received from a primary care provider or an independent provider – such as your GP, dentist or pharmacist – you can send your letter to the practice manager or person in charge of complaints, or you can complain to the service commissioner.

You can find the commissioner of the service you’re complaining about by contacting NHS England.

What to expect

After sending a letter of complaint, you should get an acknowledgement of receipt within three working days. The NHS should also offer you the chance to discuss your case. In a discussion like this, the NHS will talk to you about what you hope to achieve and how your concerns can be resolved.

The service should also set out an expected timescale for how long it will take them to resolve the issue. If this has to be extended for any reason, they should make sure you are informed before the initial timescale expires.

There is no set deadline for the NHS to respond to your complaint, so it could take longer than you may expect. But if you haven’t heard anything within six months, the NHS is required to explain why there has been a delay. You can then contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Your complaint may be dismissed by the NHS, but this doesn’t mean that you then won’t be able to make a compensation claim. If you aren’t satisfied with your response, you could consider taking legal action to reach a fair outcome.

To find out how First4Lawyers can help you through the process, just give us a call, request a call back or start your claim online.

Note: First4Lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances.


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